Ever watched a child play and noticed the amazing, and often slightly bizarre, ideas they’ve come up with?
Children are inherently imaginative and creative. I feel like it’s us adults that sometimes need a bit of help with our creativity. In fact research by UC Berkeley has shown that creativity does indeed decrease with age.
So you’re not alone in struggling to come up with that bedtime story on the spot!
Actively encouraging children to be creative has several developmental benefits for young children and you can help them.
5 Benefits of Encouraging Creativity in Young Children
1. Helping Manage Emotions
It can be tough for little ones to express exactly how they feel. They’re often experiencing new sensations and feelings they don’t understand yet, let alone are able to explain to you. Giving them an outlet through creative activities helps them express their feelings in different ways and in turn make sense of their own emotions. As children learn to express these emotions safely, their self-confidence also increases.
Role-playing, storytelling, dressing up, sketching, modeling, and painting are all activities that can help with expressing emotions.
2. Accelerating Learning & Development
Creativity inherently involves children engaging in problem solving, planning and focusing their attention. This fires up several different areas of the brain at the same time.
As they experiment creatively with scenarios, materials or tools they might find themselves discovering and learning a new concept or skill. The more they do this, the more their brains will be preparing to make new discoveries in their play.
In addition, many creative activities such as painting and crafts require fine motor skills and develop hand-eye coordination too. As children learn to write and then go on to develop handwriting skills, this early practice with fine motor skills will pay off.
3. Improving Wellbeing
Just like our own hectic lives, children’s lives can feel busy too. It’s beneficial for both you and your little one to take some time out, follow their lead to be playful and have fun together. Because creative activities have no fixed end goal, one of the best things about being creative together is that no one needs to worry about whether they’re doing anything wrong. You can simply enjoy your time and follow an idea wherever your child’s imagination leads. Enjoying this quality and stress-free time together will improve not only your child’s wellbeing, but your own wellbeing too.
4. Increasing Focus
The open-ended nature of creative activities means that children will choose to focus on something they naturally enjoy doing.
These types of child-led activities are more enjoyable for children. This in turn eans they’re more likely to focus on the activity independently for an extended period of time. Of course, the length of this extended period of time will vary depending on the child and the activity itself. The more often that children are able to sustain focus on a particular activity, the more they’ll develop their concentration skills and eventually they’ll be able to apply these to activities that they are perhaps less interested in too.
5. Developing Communication Skills
Creative activities don’t have to be independent. In fact some of the most fun you can have with creative projects happens when you engage in them together.
Because children tend to take the lead in creative activities, they’re often keen to talk about what they’re doing and that’s your chance to step in.
During imaginative play, children might be interacting in different scenarios or helping others and these will naturally result in conversations. In craft type projects you could spend time talking about what they’re doing and why. As you talk together, giving them any vocabulary they need, they’ll be developing their language development and their listening skills too.
4 Simple Ways to Encourage Creativity
Using creativity and imagination can just seem like playing. But there’s no ‘just’ about playing when children are young. Creative playtime stimulates your child’s brain in unique ways. And you can help!
1. Show Interest In their Creative Ventures
Believe me, I understand that imaginative play with small children can be very hard to be genuinely interested in. But showing that you think what they’re doing has a value will encourage them to take part in more of these types of activities.
You don’t need to fully immerse yourself in their creative play, but you might show your interest by pinning their latest painting that they worked so hard on to the fridge. Or you might ask some questions about what they're building or their character in their latest game of superheroes.
2. Praise For the Process Not the Outcome
When your child creates their own dance routine, piece of art or lego castle, praise them for their efforts and the work they put in. Talk about what they did and maybe even talk about what they could do next.
The focus should be on their efforts, paying particular attention to those activities where you can see they’ve focused and engaged. This demonstrates that it’s the creative part of their activity that was most important.
Praise them equally for efforts that don’t result in a successful outcome and of course avoid negative comments even when they haven’t put much effort in.
3. Ask Questions and Encourage Independent Thinking
Asking your child questions encourages their creativity by having them think through and extend their ideas.
Focus on one question at a time and give them time to think about their answer. Children often need some thinking time so give them space to come up with their own answer before you make any suggestions to them.
Your questions may relate to a creative activity they’re already engaged in. For example asking them about what they’re doing “What is this part of your building for?” or encouraging them to the next steps “Where do you think we could add this taller block?”
Alternatively you could use questions to start a creative conversation. For example “What do you think it would be like to live under the sea?” If a particular conversation sparks their imagination you could ask them whether they’d like to role play living under the sea or do some under-the-sea art.
Not only do these questions help your child’s development, but they’re a great way for you to get to know the inner workings of their minds!
4. Let Them Have Fun!
Encouraging children’s creativity doesn’t need to be directly tied to a certain practice or skill. So many fun activities foster creativity. For example, just singing and dancing around to a song can develop creativity as well as a child's sense of rhythm, harmony, melody, and timing.
To help your child come up with new and creative ideas, simply let them mess around with different materials or resources and see where their play takes them.
Sometimes the simplest materials like blocks, sand or clay can bring out the most creative ideas.
STEM subjects encourage all sorts of creative ideas for children. To try a STEM class for 2-5 year olds download our free Little STEAMers class here.
Take a look at our STEM activities for older children here.